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Anyang, located in Henan Province in northern China, was the center of a sophisticated Bronze Age civilization during the Shang Dynasty (商朝; 1554 to 1054 BCE). Anyang served as a capital of the Shang dynasty.

Shang Dynasty

The area controlled by the Shang Dynasty is shown in the map above.

During the nineteenth century, Anyang attracted the attention of archaeologists due to the hundreds of oracle bones which were found at the site. Oracle bones were a means of divination. The king or other royal person would ask a question which would then be written on a cattle scapula or on a turtle shell. A heated rod would then be touched to the bone which would cause cracks to appear. The priest or diviner would then read the cracks for the answer to the question. In some instances, the answer would also be written on the bones. The presence of the oracle bones at this site is an indication that it was used by royalty and is part of the evidence that it functioned as a capital.

oracle bone 2

Oracle Bone 1

Scientific archaeological excavation at Anyang began in 1929 with archaeologists from the Academic Sinica (中央研究院) and the Chinese Academy of Social Scientists. The first scientific excavations (1928 to 1937) were led by the archaeologist Li Ji of the Institute of History and Philosophy. These initial excavations uncovered the remains of a royal palace and several royal tombs. Since 1950 there have been ongoing excavations by the Archaeological Institute of the Chinese Social Sciences Academy.

In 1997 an archaeological project funded by the National Science Foundation, the Luce Foundation, and the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation carried out an extensive archaeological survey of the site. This included core drilling, excavation, geoarchaeology, palynology, paleoethnobotony, paleopathology, ceramic petrography, and DNA analysis. The project involved three seasons of field work.

At present, more than seven sites in Anyang have been studied, revealing immense remains of architecture and thousands of artifacts.

With regard to architectural features, the archaeological excavations have uncovered 53 large stamped-earth foundations for above ground structures. The largest of these measures 230 feet by 131 feet (70 meters by 40 meters). These platforms are the remains of palaces and temples which lined the city streets.

In addition to the remains of the palaces and temples, the archaeologists have also uncovered the remains of the houses of the common people and workshops. The findings from the workshops show that the ancient city had highly specialized industries which included bronze casting, pottery manufacture, bone working, and jade and stone carving.

Bronze Owl

A ritual wine container made from bronze is shown above.

Archaeologists have also uncovered underground structures, including twelve lavishly furnished and stately mausoleums. The mausoleums are located at the cemetery site of Xibeigang. While most of the tombs appear to have been looted at some time in the distant past, archaeologists did discover one intact tomb, designated as Tomb Five. Archaeologists recovered more than 1,600 artifacts from Tomb Five, including bronze ritual objects and weapons, and works in jade.

It was the oracle bones which initially called attention to the site and about 100,000 inscribed oracle bones have been discovered. Of these, about 35,000 were scientifically excavated. The oracle bones show a well-developed writing system used primarily for divination. In piecing together the history of the dynasty, the oracle bones provide some vital information: the names of the kings repeatedly appear in the inscriptions. This information suggests that the sites at Anyang were associated with Yinxu (Ruins of Yin) and that it served as the last of the seven capitals of the Yang Dynasty.

Oracle Bone 3

Economically, Anyang appears to have been sustained by millet agriculture and by a fairly extensive trading network. Cowry shells, for example, show that there was trade with the coastal region.

Originally posted to Ojibwa on Sun Mar 04, 2012 at 08:04 AM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, SciTech, and J Town.

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